Catch up on Ellen Bartelle here...Ellen Bartelle, Part 9, or click on the Installment Story label at the top to see other installments. Now, without further interruption...
It was a dark and stormy night. The glowering clouds traveled quickly, giving momentary peeks at the half moon above. Ellen was at her post across from Fit for Life, observing as her guests arrived for the final showdown. She intended to make a great entrance once her guests had all arrived.
She had emailed invitations to all, under the guise of a party honoring the new calorie counting software being launched next month. The Mayor had arrived moments before Herman and Margarita, who were bickering as usual. Next, Frank came, underdressed as usual, leaving behind him a trail of peanut shells. She held her breath as Jonathan Miller parked and entered the building, speaking briefly to the security guard with a smile. Editor Wilhelm and his secretary Carla slithered by silently...Ellen smiled to herself...soon she would never have to darken the door of Fit for Life for the rest of her life! The clouds had passed and the cool night air blew through the damp trees, causing sprinkles anew to fall around her on the bench.
It was time to make her entrance. She walked up to the Fit for Life building, her red velvet heels clicked and caused mini-splashes as she crossed the street. She flashed her credentials and a smile to security and headed to the elevators for her final ascent into the office. She felt a little odd without the fanny pack...instinctively trying to rest her hand only to find nothing. She ran her fingers through her damp hair, then bit her fingernails nervously. She was always so worked up for these meetings...public speaking was not her forte.
The elevator dinged conspicuously, reminding her of her first visit to the floor. She exited the elevator, pausing dramatically in the hallway only to discover that no one was there. She clicked across the black tile and entered the office. She posed near the doorway until all eyes had turned toward her...the guests were all helping themselves to the diet sodas and bottled waters she had thought to provide earlier.
"Hello, friends," she toned deeply. "Thank you all for responding to my message." No one responded; some of the guests looked very confused. The room took on an air of discomfort. Carla quietly began to sneer, while Herman searched for a regular Pepsi.
Having made her brief entrance speech, Ellen was unsure how to bridge the gap for her big reveal. She could feel the red of embarrassment beginning to creep up her neck as the others continued to stare mercilessly. Frank sauntered over and offered her a beverage quietly, steering her toward the refreshment table. Ellen would have none of it...she had a mission to conclude.
She gestured grandly, announcing the fact that she had an announcement to make. "If you would, please be seated while I make introductions." Everyone chose a desk chair and waited...everyone, that was, but the Mayor, who obviously would never fit into a Fit for Life desk. He stood nervously by Editor Wilhelm, shifting his weight back and forth. Then she began...
"It was four short weeks ago that I began my work here in the Fit for Life editing department. I've gotten to know many of you during that time, but I have a confession to make to you all...I am not just an editor's assistant by trade...(she paused here)...I'm a detective." She locked eyes with Jonathan's bewildered eyes, only to have the moment spoiled by Herman loudly spouting to Margarita, "There! Did I tell you there was something else going on? I don't know why you can't trust me about these things..." Margarita interrupted him with a detailed assault of exactly why she couldn't trust him. The bickered quietly from their desks in the corner.
The Mayor decided the moment had come to take credit for everything Ellen had accomplished. He tottered to the front of the office, congratulated Ellen on a job well done and began making a speech about in-house ethics and how important he always considered it. Ellen had been upstaged before the reveal, and she was unsure of how to get things back on track. Just then, fate took a hand.
A cell phone began ringing. It rang unanswered for many minutes, it's jazz trumpets blaring the same eight bars repeatedly. People began ignoring the political hogwash in search for the unanswered phone...who wasn't here to answer their phone? Or was someone there who wouldn't answer their phone in the present company?
Ellen took the Mayor's momentary lapse to jump back into the spotlight and announce grandly, "I know who that phone is ringing for!" People were checking their watches and trying to make a discreet exit...it was obvious they didn't care where or why the phone was ringing. Feeling the excitement waning, Ellen walked boldly over to Carla the secretary. She met her smoldering gaze fiercely, and with fists clenched (a very conspicuously odd movement) she invited her to answer the phone. Carla's eyes gleamed with acknowledgement, but she only snickered aloud and claimed no knowledge of the phone. Ellen walked over to Carla's desk and from the second side drawer pulled out a pink cell. "You do know of this phone because it has been your source of communication with the outside man who is blackmailing the embezzler of Fit for Life."
That statement finally made a bit of an impact. The Mayor waddled over, his piggish eyes green with excitement, Carla began shoveling insults out about Ellen's BMI, Jonathan was carefully listening, clearly intrigued, and Herman and Margarita were of course still arguing in the corner. Frank looked on keenly.
Ellen quieted the mini-mob with the promise of an explanation. They quieted nervously and listened as she began. "I was approached prior to my introduction to Fit for Life by the Mayor, who was obviously concerned about the embezzling of funds from this...(her voice caught a little as she thought up a complimentary, yet honest adjective for the hated job)...substantial...company." Ellen glanced over to the agitated and perspiring politician. "It was a bold move to hire someone to uncover the source of the embezzlement from without the company. His reasoning was obvious...the mayor himself is the embezzler." Ellen had anticipated a gasp of astonishment, but apparently this news didn't surprise many. Even the Mayor was tonguetied in his own defense. He pointed his finger at her, trying to summon up a speech, but was perfectly speechless. She cocked her eyebrow, then continued, "The Mayor isn't the only breach in ethics here. He embezzled thousands of dollars from this company to fund his reelection campaign under the watchful eyes of Carla and her well-seasoned blackmailing companion in crime. The red mark on the blackmail letter was a dead giveaway...it could be no one else but Frank." This time there was a gasp. Frank, her lifetime friend stared in shock at Ellen.
He began, "Ellen, how dare you accuse me..." Ellen realized her improvident blunder.
"No, no, Frank, of course I don't mean you...I mean Frank from the street. You know, Frank's franks? His real name isn't even Frank! It's Troy...who buys hot dogs from a guy named Troy? I couldn't believe it at first, either, but there's no mistaking that horseradish ketchup he makes. Who else would be able to see the secret happenings of Fit for Life? Who else would have known which waif to approach with the idea of blackmail? It had to be someone close. Some one the Mayor would never suspect. Someone who had been able to photograph the Mayor eating all those nitrates. It was him." Ellen finished with a smile, then casually ignored her growling stomach while she calmly dialed security and the police.
Frank and Editor Wilhelm were strong in their praise of Ellen's blame-pinning palate. The Mayor was arrested, as Ellen had already forwarded all Fit for Life financial data to the district attorney. The police would be out late into the night looking for Frank, er, Troy, who would be hastily thrown under the bus by the now unemployed Carla.
Out of habit, Herman began cleaning up and turning off the lights. There was only one light left on in the office, as most people had already left to spread the gossip around Seattle. Ellen looked at Jonathan, seeking his approval and understanding. He came near her and offered his congratulations...then he invited her out to dinner with him and his girlfriend. Her heart sank...seriously?! Ellen smiled slightly and thanked him, evading the invitation for now. She stepped forward and shook his hand, standing eye to eye as equals. She would never feel inferior to him again, for she had proved her worth to him and all Seattle. She was alone, but she was a force to be reckoned with. She was Ellen Bartelle, woman of mystery.
She put on her red ladybug sunglasses, turned on her velvet heel and walked away slowly. She left the building, grabbing the lipstick umbrella on her way out into the damp streets of Seattle. The storm had calmed, just as had the mystery of her life...until tomorrow.